Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

In January, with Mind, Body, and Instinct

January 20th, 2011 · archetypal experience, archetypes, body, Carl Jung, consciousness, cravings, dreams, inner life, instinct, Jungian analysis, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, seasonal affective disorder, self-knowledge, The Self, unconscious, wholeness

This blog post, on our January mind set, and on mind, body and instinct, continues my last post, although it might look quite different.  My immediately previous post was centered around two quotations that painted pictures of the conscious and unconscious brains in relation to each other.  This post is much more directly concerned with the subjective experience of mind, body and instinct.  I include another quotation from Jung, speaking on primal “instinctual” humans and modern “rational” humans.  Jung’s prime concern here is the loss of human connection with nature — primal, fundamental human nature.

The holidays are over; spring is a long time off.  In the post-December winter months, it’s often easy to fall into a kind of robotic “just-gotta-get-through-it” mental state.  In my personal experience, it’s altogether too easy to just go to a kind of  place where we’re mentally divorced from our feelings, and we just stoically keep answering the “call of duty”, withour regard for the instinctual human we all carry within, and his or her needs.

The Instinct-Rationality Divide

Primitive man was much more governed by his instincts than his “rational” modern descendents. who have learned to “control” themselves.  In this civilizing process, we have increasingly divided our consciousness from the deeper instinctive strata of the human psyche, and even ultimately from the somatic [body] basis of psychic phenomena.  Fortunately, we have not lost these basic instinctive strata; they remain part of the unconscious, even though they may express themselves only in the form of dream images.

Jung, C.G., ed.,  Man and His Symbols, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964)

Modern humans can be very cut off from the instinctual basis of life, and even from being aware of our bodily existence.  In my experience, this can be particularly true when you’re bundled up, slogging down an ice-and-snow filled January street at -25 degrees with a high wind chill!

But, even so, as Jung was among the first to tell us, the instinctual side continues to function, along with the whole broad psychic processing of of inner and outer experience.  It’s always with us, and one important way to move closer to wholeness is to work actively to be aware of that.

Ways to Access the Instinctual Life Within You

Here are four questions to ask that can bring you nearer to the instincts and the life of your body.

1.  What is Your Body Telling You?

It is amazing the degree to which many modern people are completely oblivious to their bodies.  As a very simple step, what if you were to become aware of where in your body you carry tension, and when that tension appears?  If really thinking about this is something new to you, I think you would be amazed at the degree of awareness of your own psyche and your own instinctual self that can come to you through continually practicing this one simple step.

2.  Be Honest: How Do You Really Feel About That?

Of course, it’s just about the world’s oldest joke that therapists are always asking everyone, “Well, how do you really feel about that?”  But it can be so easy to drift into a place of non-awareness about your own feelings — particularly if you’re a personality type that leans heavily on thinking as opposed to feeling.  For such people (and I’m certainly a card carrying member of “Club Think”!) it can be a matter of great importance to be asking yourself continually, “Yes — but what am I feeling now?”

3.  What Do I Really Crave, Yearn for?  Why Do I Crave That?

Your cravings are important!  It may seem like a triviality in the midst of the great Project of Individuation to note that when I’m alone I experience a strong craving for Junior Mints, but don’t be too quick to assume that it’s irrelevant!  Try as much as you can to get into the question of “Yes, but why do I crave Junior Mints at such a time?”  Are they a distraction from the feelings, a self-medication?  Do they have symbollic importance in some ways — a connection with a happy, secure time in my life, for instance?  On the other hand, do the things I crave in some way or other symbollically embody spirit, or my deepest aspirations?

4.  What is Emerging in My Dreams?

And one very profound way in which instinctual life expresses itself is in dream images.  This is a big one for psychotherapists, and especially for Jungians, as we undergo a great deal of rigorous training in how to handle dream material.  I’ve written about this quite a bit, and you can expect me to write about it a lot more.  But we can certainly say here that the deepest aspects of ourselves, instinctual and otherwise, can be counted on to show up through our dreams — that aspect of ourselves that Jung sometimes referrd to as “The Two Million Year Old Man.”

What Are You Instinctually Disposed Towards?

Have you ever had times in your life where you have felt strongly that you were doing things by instinct? I’ve heard many stories that, for instance, mothers tell of getting through unbelievably difficult situations on the strength of their mothering instinct alone.   I’ve also heard of situations where something like raw instinct has led people at a certain point to make fundamental and life-changing decisions.  Indeed, I believe that I made such a change at one particular points in my life — that probably saved my life.  Has your instinct or your “animal side” ever moved you in directions that your intellect would have never thought of going?

I would be very interested to hear about your experiences: please leave a comment below, or if you prefer, send me an email!

Wishing you rich growth in your experience of all that you are, on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Dream Interpretation in Jungian Psychotherapy: The Roadblock

December 22nd, 2010 · dreams, inner life, journey, Jungian, Jungian analysis, life journey, Mississauga, Oakville, Peel Region, persona, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, The Self, therapy, unconscious, wholeness

I thought that I would try and say a little bit in this post about how a Jungian approach to dream interpretation might look like “in action”.  Here’s a dream motif that appears sometimes in psychotherapy, in one form or another.  It’s one that at times will appear in the dreams of my clients.  In rough outline, it goes something like what follows below.

A Dream Motif

The dreamer is trying to get somewhere.  Perhaps the dreamer is in a vehicle, like a car, or on a bicycle, or possibly he or she is on foot.  However, there is some obstacle.  She or he might have to go down a narrow path in her car, and there’s a vehicle accident completely blocking the road.  Or it might be that he or she has to climb an impossibly steep hill.   However, when the individual starts to backtrack, something happens.  Perhaps they are injured, or otherwise hindered. 
In any event, going backward to retrace his or her steps is well-nigh impossible.

The specific interpretation of such a dream would be unique for such an individual, to be sure.  However, there are still a number of important things that Jungian psychotherapy could say about its meaning.

1.  The Individual is Not Going to be Able to Move Forward Travelling in the Current Direction

Very clearly, the dream is showing us that the dreamer cannot move forward.  There is a barrier, either in the form of an insurmountable obstacle, or something that would take an impossibly large amount of energy to overcome.  The dream is clearly giving the message that the direction that the individual is moving in, with respect to the situation that is being dreamt of, will simply not work.  The individual may have been moving in this direction for a long time, or may have just started on this path.  No matter: the import of the dream is the same.  You can’t keep doing what you’re doing.

2.  To Try to Go Back to a Previous State Will Only Cause Pain, Exhaustion or Loss of Vitality

However, that doesn’t mean that the dreamer can just go back to something that happened in the past.  He or she cannot simply retrace his or her steps.   There’s too much pain, or too many cuts of lacerations, too much loss of life-blood.  The older way, the “regressive restoration of the persona”, as a Jungian would say, doesn’t work either.  The person can’t do what he or she used to do.  Life isn’t going to let him or her get away with it, at least not without paying a fearful psychological price.  What may be recalled enthusiastically as “the good days” cannot be reproduced in the present moment.  What is the individual to do?

3.  Something New is Needed

A standard Jungian dream interpretation would be that the dream is painting a picture of a person in a dilemma.  Something new is needed: a different way, or a different approach.  This is not likely to come about as a result of the individual “just trying harder”.  The individual is going to have to explore aspects of her- or himself that have been unknown and undeveloped.  From the perspective of Jungian psychotherapy, the answer will have to emerge from the unconscious.

Is There Anything Across Your Path?

Have you ever encountered a dream of this type?  Have you possibly had such a dream recently?  As I stated, this type of dream is not particularly uncommon.  With the right kind of dream interpretation, the unconscious shows us quite an apt portrait of a person’s psychological situation.  If you’ve had this kind of “blocked path” experience, I would really welcome your comments below.

Wishing you a deep wisdom to know the way forward on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2010 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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An Oakville Psychotherapist’s View of Work Life Balance

November 4th, 2010 · Identity, Individuation, Jungian analysis, Lifestyle, Meaning, personal myth, psychotherapist, stress, therapy, work

 

The Toronto Globe and Mail has been running a series of articles on “Work Life Balance”.  There is one of these articles that I found myself reacting to rather strongly.  The article is entitled “Work-Life Balance: Why Your Boss Should Care” .  In particular, the article contains the following paragraph:

“Our inability to balance our jobs and our home life is costing corporate Canada as much as $10-billion a year in rising absenteeism, lost output, lower productivity, missed deadlines and grumpy customers, according to estimates by business professors Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario.”

Now, in fairness to this article, it is part of a series of articles that the Globe has been running, that all have somewhat different perspectives on work-life balance.  It is also true that this article states  that it focuses on the management perspective in a very up-front way.  Nonetheless, I feel that, from the perspective of a therapist, this article loses sight of a number of important things.

Work Life Balance is an Individual Thing

First, it’s not the job of corporations to sort out the individual’s work-life balance issues, nor is it within the corporation’s competence.  The task of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders, plain and simple.  The large corporation, as much as the state, is an entity composed of masses of human beings.  However, the matter of work-life balance is a matter that is important to individuals, and it is only on that individual level that the question of the right relationship of life and work can be solved.

Work Life Balance is Not Fundamentally an Economic Issue

Second, the study emphasizes the cost to employers of distorted work-life balance.  However, it doesn’t appear that any corresponding analysis was done of the financial benefits to corporate Canada of people working hours that are weighted on the heavy end.  If that calculation were done, and if it were established that there was a net financial benefit to corporate Canada in encouraging overwork, would that conclude the matter, making overwork a good thing?  Unquestionably not.  Otherwise, you have reduced the value of the individual’s life purely to their economic role.

Work-life issues are not properly analyzed in terms of financial cost-benefit or markets.  They are only properly analyzed in terms of individual decisions, and in terms of what the individual values in his or her life.

Individuals Have to Take Responsibility for Their Own Lives

Individuals can’t offload their responsibility to find a personal solution to these issues to any corporation or other employer — or to any other collective entity.  Individuals have to really take hold of this issue, take personal responsibility for it, and examinine it deeply in the light of their own deepest values.  From the point of view of the therapist or Jungian analyst, the answers to those life questions are going to be fundamentally tied up with the individual’s understanding of his or her own personal identity, and with the story that the individual tells him or herself about her or his life — his or her own personal myth.

A Question of Identity

And that requires that individuals distinguish their work identity and social self — the roles they play, what Jung would call the persona — from their true identity, which rests upon the things that the individual most fundamentally values.  The journey of psychotherapy is to go in search of what that true identity is, even when it may conflict in some ways with the standards and norms of society and family.

How Does This Affect You?

Are you wrestling with issues around balancing work and life?  Have you faced particular times when this issue has come to the fore for you, and required decision, discernment or endurance?  I would really welcome any of your comments or life stories, either as comments on this post or as confidential emails.  I would really appreciate your thoughts and reflections.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2010 Brian Collinson
Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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Stress, Power, Resilience and Myth, Part 3: In Myself

October 31st, 2010 · depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, personal myth, psychological crisis, resilience, Self, soul, therapy, wholeness

This is the third in my series of posts about resilience, and its role in the work of psychotherapy.  In my last post, I wrote about personal experiences through which I was changed, and, through which the issue of resilience really came home to roost in my life.  In this post, I would like to try and say something about the places in which I believe I really found some sources of resilience.  As I stressed before, this is not to say that what I will describe is exactly “the answer”, for anyone other than me.  The “answers” that any of us find are of necessity very individual, and if what I describe points anyone to move any further on their own individual path to being grounded in their own being, then I think that is all that I can hope to do.

Fortunately, Things Became Sufficiently Painful

When I left off my story, in my late 20s and early 30s, I was in the midst of making a lot of rash decisions, and taking a lot of risks.  My anger, pain and despair were very near the surface, and I was volatile in the extreme.  I do not believe that I was very easy on the people who were nearest to me at that time, and I was certainly “acting out” in some nasty ways.  Fortunately, in my late 20s, things became painful and difficult enough that I realized that I needed to reach out for some highly skilled help, and I got into therapy with someone who was very highly skilled, and who got what was at stake.  This was the first of a group of very good therapists, all of whom had a psychodynamic orientation, to whom I owe a very great debt, perhaps even my life.

Down Into Me

Through my 30s, much of my therapeutic work was involved with getting me out of my head, and down into my body and my emotions.   A lot of the work focussed on things that had occurred in my earlier life.  They also helped me  to understand what it is to feel your own life, in every sense of the word.  To be in your body.  To really feel your own emotions.  The work evolved in a more and more symbolic direction, and I was fortunate to have  therapists, in particular Jungian analysts, who were able to help me come to some deep insights into my own being from my own patterns of behaviour, and from my dreams.  They helped me greatly with the process of uncovering my own symbols, and my own personal myth.  They knew how to work with the symbols that emerged from my dreams, and could help me to see how they eloquently express the reality of my particular selfhood and life.  This is something very hard to espress in an intellectual way, but when it happens, it’s something you know.

Above All, They Really Listened

However, if I had to point to one single characteristic of this small group of therapists that helped me more than any other, it was this: they really, really knew how to listen.  And in addition, they really, really knew how to ask questions.  As I moved through my therapy, this intent listening — this belief of theirs that they had never heard my story from anyone before, and would never hear it from anyone again —  really helped me to grasp the real nature of my own story, and to come to an ever better understanding of who and what I really am.

Acceptance

My therapeutic journey has enabled me to find a kind of acceptance of my life.  An ability to feel that this life, as outwardly ordinary and unheroic as it may be, is unique, and that it is truly mine.  To feel that, even in my suffering, there is a kind of rightness to my life, a rightness to being here in this time and this way, and to being alive.  That my life is my life, me… and that I can accept that, and welcome it.  For me, this means feeling rooted in my life, much more solid in it, than I have ever felt.  Insofar as I can make any meaningful sense of psychologists’ use of the word “resilience”, this is it.

How Does All This Seem to You?

Are these experiences to which you can relate?  I would really welcome any comments that you might have.  Are reslience and feeling at home in your life things which concern you?  If so, I would really welcome hearing from you.

Wishing you all good things on your journey to wholeness, and to your self,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 

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© 2010 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 2: Getting Real

October 25th, 2010 · Anxiety, depth psychology, Existential crisis, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Meaning, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, stress, therapy

Recently, I started a series of posts about the growth of resilience, which is a very key part of the work of psychotherapy.  I’d like to share a personal experience of mine through which I became changed, and, I believe, much more resilient.  It’s not that I’m trying to suggest that I’ve “got it all figured out”, or that this set of experiences gave me “the key to life” — mine or anybody else’s.  But I do believe that this was an experience that affected me deeply, that it cost me a great deal, and that I genuinely grew through it.

Resilience is directly connected to our convictions at the deepest level about our lives — our basic trust.  And sometimes life can shake what we believe about our own individual lives to the very core.  I had occasion to learn this in a period between my mid-20s and early 30s.

The Journey to Upside Down

At the time this experience occurred, I was a  highly religious person, in a liberal Christian tradition.  I had a very clear conception of my life: how things had unfolded according to plan, and how they would continue to do so into the future.  I was recently happily married, and my wife and I had a baby on the way.

Then the baby arrived, and we learned that he was born pretty close to about as deaf as a child can be.

Suddenly, everything that I thought I knew about my life was turned upside down.  Through this crisis, everything I had hitherto believed about the nature of God, the world, suffering, even evil, and what was meaningful in life was shaken to the core.

Now, I’m not foolish enough to think that having a deaf child is the worst that can happen to a person.  Far, far from it.  It can get unbelievably more painful and difficult than that, I well know.  Nonetheless, when this happened to me, I was completely devastated.  I literally did not know which way to turn, and, for a long time, I seriously doubted that I would ever be happy — or even ever smile — again.

Life Crisis

I also know that, as the years went by, I was also plunged into a more and more  profound crisis of faith and life — an existential crisis, as they say.  It was not so much a question of “why me?”  With the crisis around my son’s deafness, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes, and I was finally seeing for the first time the depth of the suffering in the world.  In fact, I was seeing it very clearly and close up in the very people with whom I was working.  It was deeply apparent to me now how many people were struggling with so very much more than they knew how to handle, or felt that they could handle.  The question I found myself struggling with on the deepest level was much more, “How can there be a loving God, if this kind of thing happens to any one at all?”

By the time I was 30, I was completely shaken out of the very comfortable life path that I had seen mapped out for me.  Nothing was left of it.  It was apparent to me that life was never going to be possible with the old outlook I had once had.  At about that time, I made some very major changes in virtually every aspect of my life — faith, career, relationships — and moved in a new direction.

Rash, Raw, Risky … Lost

I didn’t know what was waiting for me, and I was making all kinds of rash decisions, without regard for the risks.  In many ways I was raw, and I wore my anger, my pain and my sense of betrayal on my sleeve, often for all to see.  My despair and cynicism were probably at their height at this point.

What I didn’t know, and couldn’t see, was that something was changing inside myself.  At the time, I could not have described to you what this change was, but it was real and it was deep.  It would take years for me to even begin to understand what was emerging in my life.  In my next blog post, Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 3: A Story of My Own, I’ll attempt to share with you something of what that change really meant.

Have You Had This Kind of Experience?

I am sure that many of my readers have had to confront real adversity or real crisis in their own lives.  I would respectfully welcome any of your comments on what it was like to cope with such things.  How did such experiences change you?  As always, I gratefully welcome any of your reflections.

Wishing you peace and resilience on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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A Video Portrait of Jung

October 1st, 2010 · archetypal experience, Carl Jung, consciousness, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, personal story, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, soul, therapy

Here is a video which I re-tweeted recently on Twitter. I decided to post it on my blog because I think that it gives a particularly revealing portrait of the psychiatrist CG Jung in his latter years.  The video is taken from “Face to Face”, an excellent interview program hosted by John Freeman of the BBC in 1959.

In this interview, with the stage artfully set by Freeman, Jung describes something remarkable that he would later write about in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections .  This was a sudden experience that came upon him in his 11th year, when he suddenly came to a simple, but remarkable awareness: “I exist“.

…and then I found that I had been in a mist, and I stepped out of it, and I knew that Iam.  I am what I am.… Before I had been in a mist, not knowing to differentiate myself from things…  As far as I can tell, nothing had happened beforehand that would explain this sudden coming to consciousness….

I find this remarkable.  In relating this incident, Jung describes a very fateful moment in his life.  Jung would spend the rest of his life, effectively caught up in the mysteries of consciousness, self-awareness and individual identity.

There is a great mystery here, something about which we take so much for granted.  What is it to exist, as a person, as an “I”?  What is it to be aware?  Just who is this I, who is aware, and how is this I to relate to the rest of the universe, both externally, and in our boundless inner being?

It seems to me that this little snip of video, a fine example of the art of the interviewer, does exactly what a portrait should do.  It opens up a window on the mystery and intricacy of the person portrayed.  And it leads us on, to reflect on the nature of the unique mystery that is our own unique identity.

I’d welcome your comments and reflections on either Carl Jung or the whole subject of being aware of our own existence.  Did you ever have a similar moment yourself, when you were suddenly aware that “I exist”?

Good wishes to all of you on your own personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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VIDEO CREDIT: © British Broadcasting Corporation, 1959  These images are the property of the BBC and are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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What Do You Think About Therapy?

September 27th, 2010 · Carl Jung, depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Mississauga, Oakville, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, therapy

What is your attitude towards doing therapy?  Is it something that you would ever consider?  Is it something only for severely damaged people, or “sick” people?  Or is it something that may be of importance for ordinary, everyday people?  In recent years, many peoples’ attitudes have changed — a lot!

There was a time, not so many years ago, when going to a psychotherapist would have been a major stigma.  If people knew that someone was going to see a “shrink”, to use that term, there would have been an attitude toward the individual which would have been positively demeaning.  There would have been a whole series of conclusions drawn — many of them not very savoury — about the individual’s competency, maturity, “well-adjustedness”, and possibly even his or her sanity.

But now times have changed, and attitudes have changed with them.  While you can certainly still find many people whose attitudes towards those who go to therapy would be miscoloured by prejudices and stereotypes, for most this is not the case.  A lot of people are coming to realize that therapy — of the right type — can lead to a much more complete and fulfilling life, for people in general who are struggling with some of the normal processes of what Jungians call individuation, or the journey to wholeness.

I believe that this is particularly true of that form of therapy known as Jungian analysis.  One of the characteristics of Jungian analysis is a fundamental affirmation of the uniqueness of each individual, in combination with the belief that each individual is on a unique journey to become the whole person that they carry as a latent potential within themselves.  From a Jungian perspective, a great many people, perhaps the majority, could benefit from a thorough experience in therapy to help them clear away the roadblocks to becoming, and also to get a much clearer sense of who it is that they are, at the most fundamental level.

Certainly people come into Jungian analysis, often, because they have certain specific issues with which they want to deal.  It is characteristically true that every human will encounter situations of wounding or conflict or loss of direction or orientation.  That is simply part of the human condition. But what emerges in therapy, what constitutes the healing factor in it, is a growing awareness of the individual’s fundamental make-up, and of the journey upon which they have been embarked, all this time.  Therapy, and Jungian analysis in particular, has the power to give a person a perspective that differs fundamentally on all kinds of levels from that with which the individual entered the therapeutic work.  For many, therapy brings a depth to ordinary life that cannot be reached in any other way.

I’d welcome your comments and reflections on the role of therapy in our lives today.  The position I’m taking is that therapy at the right time can benefit almost everyone.  Do you agree with me, or do you have different perspective?  Have you had any experiences with therapy, whether good or bad?

Wishing each of you the very best on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga psychotherapy practice:

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The Not-So-Simple Task of Simply Being Honest, Pt 2: Shadow

September 14th, 2010 · Carl Jung, depth psychology, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Shadow, soul, The Self, unlived life, wholeness

As I indicated in Part 1 of this post, if we really get serious about the task of being honest with ourselves, sooner or later, we are going to run into what Jung calls the Shadow.  The Shadow represents all those parts of ourselves that we do not, or do not want to, acknowledge as being parts of ourselves.  As Jung himself puts it:

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.

If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that “they” do this or that, “they” are wrong, and “they” must be fought against.  Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.

CG Jung, CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. pp. 131 – 140

So a person’s shadow will often have a large element of moral difficulty attached to it.  It may be that I have certain strong ethical standards for instance, which I not only feel that I adhere to, but which I also proclaim to the world.  But it’s often the case that, underlying such a position, I in fact do not really act in a manner consistent with my conscious convictions — and, what’s more, I even hide the fact that I do so from my conscious awareness.

The above is the aspect of the shadow that preachers or moralists might easily pick up on, but there is more to the shadow than that.  For the shadow also contains those aspects of our personality associated with feelings of weakness, inferiority or shame.  These may be elements of our personality that we do not hide or fail to acknowledge for moral reasons, but more because we simply resist showing them to the world.  These shadow contents may often concern the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, including parts of ourselves that have been deeply wounded or shamed by others, or which we simply cannot accept about ourselves.  They may well have hidden themselves, not only from the view of the world, but also from my own view.  Remarkably, many memories may have been repressed and split off.

And this is certainly not all that there is to be said about the shadow.  There could easily be another 50 posts like this one on the subject!  But it’s important to recognize that the undeveloped potentialities in my personality reside in the shadow.  For instance, if I’m a fairly introverted person, in the way I present to the world, I may have a fairly extroverted shadow… or vice versa.  There are very likely aspects of myself in my shadow that I find very difficult to face or acknowledge — but it may also be that a great amount of undiscovered life is there in the shadow as well, waiting to be uncovered and encountered.

Questions to Ask Yourself about Shadow

  1. What do I have the hardest time admitting to be true about myself?
  2. Where do I feel weakest and most vulnerable in my innermost self?
  3. What kinds of people, or what individuals, do it have the hardest time putting up with?  If I’m really honest with myself, is there anything at all about them that I envy, or even admire, however grudgingly?  Is that which I envy a quality that I might find somewhere in myself?

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and your reflections on the whole subject of the shadow.

Wishing you every good thing on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Dmitry Maslov | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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The Not-So-Simple Task of Simply Being Honest, Part 1

August 25th, 2010 · depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, persona, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, Shadow, truth, unconscious

Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.

-Ludwig Wittgenstein

We all like to feel that we know ourselves, and that we are fundamentally honest with ourselves, but is it so?  Often we not only deceive other people — something we may or may not have very good reasons for doing.  We also deceive ourselves.  That is a problem, because sometimes deliberate not-wanting-to-know keeps us from being conscious of things that we really need to understand for our own individuation process.

To see what I mean, let’s consider one of the most common questions that is asked in this world.  This question must surely also receive one of the highest proportions of deceptive responses worldwide:

“So… How are you?”

It is not merely that the answers given to the questioner in response to this question are knowingly false.  It is, that on a deeper level, we very often are untruthful or inaccurate in what we allow ourselves to know in response to this question.  If we were to reflect, we would realize that our answers are not only superficial, they are often untrue.  For instance, we humans are quite capable of responding by telling people, “Fine, thank you!” when in fact we may be wrestling desperately with anxiety or depression.  It is not merely that we are choosing to be deceptive of others.  It is that we are choosing not to know — to deceive ourselves.

Sometimes the truth is very hard to look at, head on.  We can become acutely aware of this when there are aspects of ourselves at which we would rather not look.  For instance, it can sometimes take people a great deal of effort to look at their early life, and to acknowledge the ways in which it was  filled with sadness.  Or similarly, loyalty to parents may prevent a person from acknowledging that the relationship with that parent was, or is, a very difficult one.  Again, because we often have such an ego investment in relationships, acknowledging that  a marriage or a partnership may not be good for us may hold similar difficulties. Similarly, the capacity of individuals to rationalize or deny in situations of addiction or abuse are well known.  And the whole realm of sexuality is frequently full of things that we would rather not admit to ourselves.

To set yourself on the course of being fundamentally honest with yourself is to set yourself on the path of encounter with the unconscious.  In particular, being honest with oneself often sets one on a course for in-depth encounter with the shadow, in Jungian terms.  In the next Part of this series, I will be examining this encounter with shadow in more depth.

Questions to Ask about Truth and Honesty in the Inner Life

  1. What do I have a vested interest in believing about myself?
  2. What do I have a vested interest in believing about other people in my life?
  3. Are there things that I would really rather believe, that I have to admit are just not true?

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and on the whole subject of truth in our relationship to ourselves.

Wishing you every good thing on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Jose Elias Silva Neto | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Escaping the Grip of Regret, Part 3: Through Phoenix Gate

August 11th, 2010 · complexes, depression, depth psychology, guilt, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, regret, Shadow, soul, therapy, unconscious, unlived life, wholeness

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on regret, I have tried to portray something of the nature and power of regret as it manifests in our lives.  Hopefully I have succeeded in making one very central thing clear: regret is not some peripheral thing in our lives that is going to be cleared away by simply improving our thinking.  It strikes deeper.  It is much more fundamental.  How then are we to deal with the presence of regret in our lives?

One of the first steps is to frankly acknowledge the danger to us that regret represents.  Regret, truly strong regret, has the power to deprive us of a meaningful life in the present, even though it concerns events in our past.

Neither will regret be skirted.  It often stands in the center of the road of our journey.  The way that it holds our energy can seem hopelessly entangling.

Acknowledging the sheer pain of regret can be very hard to do.  As is often the case with strong negative feelings, we try to deny their existence.  Yet it is only acknowledging the pain that really makes us aware of the life that has been lost, of which the regret reminds us.  And it is only in acknowledging the pain and sometimes the despair that is associated with regret that the energy that is tied up in it can begin to be freed up to move toward something else in our lives.  And that something may have real life and real meaning for us.

Despair is usually the last place we want to go.  The last thing we want to face in our lives.  Yet, it is in our despair that our energy gets caught.

What is it about what we regret that really keeps us from wanting to release it?  Can we face the hurt inherent in failed hopes?  Does regret really move us more deeply into the question of what our life is about, and whether we find it meaningful or not?  As the character Ivan says in the recent film Greenberg , can we really come to accept and cherish a life other than the one we planned?

Carl Jung frequently used a phrase that he took from the ancient world” amor fati .  Literally translated, it means “the love of one’s fate.”  This is not a phrase to be chucked around glibly, and Jung certainly did not do that.  However, the idea of loving one’s fate is the mirror opposite of living a life that is consumed by regret.

When one looks at the painful, and sometimes even horrific events that can be endured by human beings, one can only conclude that it would be a grim mockery to counsel someone to somehow love these actual events.  That would be the bitterest possible perversion of some idea of positive thinking.  I don’t think that is what Jung means when he uses the phrase amor fati. I think what he does mean is that the person who loves his or her fate somehow lives in hope, and sees a meaning emerging in the midst of the fabric of his or her life.  Such a life and such a hope offers the possibility of living passionately into life — beyond the chains of regret.

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and on the whole subject of dealing with regret.

Wishing you every good thing on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Guy Allard | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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